Financial toll may prove otherwise, but snowy February not a logistical nightmare for carriers

By Samantha Bomkamp, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

Northeast snow halts planes, trains, automobiles

NEW YORK — Roughly 2,000 flights were canceled. Train and bus service was scrubbed. And some shipments of small packages and heavy freight were suspended or delayed.

Sound familiar?

Another February storm hit the Northeast Friday. The financial toll is sure to be heavy and travelers and businesses are no doubt weary from record snowfalls this month. But the repeated storms aren’t proving to be a logistical nightmare for airlines or big delivery companies like UPS and FedEx.

The biggest storms have been mostly concentrated in the eastern region of the country. That, plus advance warning, has allowed airlines to alter schedules and limit any potential ripple effects. And the major shippers have large networks that give them flexibility to move operations around.

Timing has also been beneficial for the airlines: February is traditionally a slower month for travel.

“It’s really the unpredictable storms — like thunderstorms in the summer — that cause the most problems,” says American Airlines’ Tim Wagner.

Planes, trains and automobiles still had a tough time getting around the Northeast on Friday, even as the storm battering the region began to taper off.

Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said that most flights out of the metro area’s three major airports were canceled. The airports — John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark — remained open.

Delta Air Lines, the world’s biggest airline, reported 500 cancellations throughout its system, mostly in the Northeast. It diverted some of its international flights at JFK to other airports.

American Airlines and regional affiliate American Eagle axed 200 flights in and out of New York, 10 in Philadelphia and roughly 80 in Washington.

Southwest Airlines scrubbed 297 flights, while US Airways canceled 236 Express flights and 76 mainline flights. JetBlue Airways, which blamed a technical issue with its central computer system for an hour-long grounding of its flights nationwide, nixed 80 flights due to the weather and AirTran Airways canceled 18 flights.

Continental Airlines, which has a hub at the Newark, N.J., airport, canceled roughly 300 mainline flights, in addition to about 200 flights involving its regional partners.

The cancellation totals added to thousands of other flights the airlines have scratched since Feb. 4. In many cases, airlines canceled flights at least a day in advance, reducing the logjams that would have resulted in their networks had they waited until closer to the scheduled departures. Passengers were being offered refunds or the ability to rebook their flights without paying a fee.

New York’s Port Authority bus terminal was still open Friday, although bus carriers like Greyhound, Megabus, Bolt Bus and Peter Pan Bus Lines canceled “most, if not all of their service,” Coleman said.

Amtrak suspended some service between New York City and Albany, N.Y. while the freight railroad that operates the tracks made repairs.

Amtrak also canceled some Northeast Regional trains between New York and Boston or Washington D.C. Affected passengers were being placed on other trains.

Shippers, meanwhile, had their hands full dealing with the latest winter storm.

UPS suspended pickups and deliveries in some parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The company said its package guarantee does not apply when its transportation network is disrupted due to conditions beyond its control. The ripple was being felt elsewhere, too.

UPS’ freight service centers in Cleveland and Richfield, Ohio, were offering limited service as a result of the winter storm that blanketed much of the Northeast.

But, UPS had a full dispatch of drivers Friday, and the impact was expected to be mostly local, coming into play when drivers hit streets they can’t navigate, a spokesman said.

Schools were canceled as far west as Cleveland and roads closed as far south as West Virginia as the slow-moving storm spent a second day parked over the region. But the worst of the storm hit New England.

Some travelers were fed up.

In Newark, N.J., Rosa Cabrera waited 20 minutes for a bus that never came, then took off on foot to her job at a factory. “We thought we were used to the winters here,” the Ecuador native said in Spanish, “but this is just too much.”

The airlines, while continuing to tally their losses, were trying to put a good face on all the cancellations this month.

JetBlue said in a recent blog posting under the title “Who’s afraid of a little snow?” that it likes making snowmen and having snowball flights with other airlines.

The New York carrier says its goal is to get its passengers to their destinations on-time, but noted, “You don’t mess with Mother Nature.”


Weber reported from Atlanta.

will not be displayed